János Lázár gives an interview to a left-wing paper

Today I will try something that may not meet with the approval of the Hungarian journalistic community. I will critically analyze Ágnes Fazekas’s interview in Népszava with János Lázár on November 5. The occasion for the interview was Népszava’s boycott of Lázár’s weekly two-hour-long press conferences.

The reason for the boycott is not entirely clear. On October 12 Népszava joined nine other media outlets in protesting the shuttering of Népszabadság. At that time some commentators pointed out that these séances, as one commentator called the Thursday afternoon performances, have no real news value. Moreover, in the last two years Lázár and his loyal spokesman, Zoltán Kovács, have learned the art of outfoxing the often timid journalists. In brief, one doesn’t miss much by not attending.

Well, Népszava didn’t show up at some of these press conferences and Lázár expressed his dismay at the absence of the paper’s reporter. On the spot he promised to phone the editorial office of the paper in order, I guess, to convince them to return. By the end there was no need for the telephone call because Lázár bumped into Népszava’s reporter in the parliament building. She told him that the reason for her absence was Lázár’s lack of frankness when answering the journalists’ questions. At the same time she invited him for an interview, which he somewhat unexpectedly accepted.

János Lázár / Source: Népszava

János Lázár / Source: Népszava

Ágnes Fazekas reminded Lázár that the decision to boycott the “government info” was made by the editorial board because Lázár’s answers to their reporter’s questions were not “sincere.” The word “truthful” would have been more appropriate, but I guess she felt she had to tread lightly. Lázár was “hurt.” The prime minister had tasked him with answering all of the questions to the best of his knowledge. He said he has been trying to answer all questions correctly. He didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings but if he did, he apologizes. The reporter dropped the topic instantly, adding that “it’s nice that you want us back.” This response set the tone for the conversation that followed. Once the reporter let Lázár off the hook and didn’t probe into the untrue statements that are the hallmarks of these press conferences Lázár had every reason to relax.

After Lázár’s high praise of the journalistic profession and an empty statement about the necessity of a good working relationship between politicians and the media, Fazekas complained only about Lázár’s “cynical answers to their questions.” For example, when the reporter of Népszava asked him about the dispersal of advertising money among the media outlets, Lázár referred him to the agencies responsible for the decisions when it is clear that the final word comes from the government. Her use of the word “cynical” is misplaced here. What she should have said was that Lázár didn’t tell the truth. Cynicism means “an attitude of scornful or jaded negativity,” which is a far cry from what happened. Lázár not only denied the obvious but in the interview itself claimed that advertising money from government sources is strictly allocated according to the size of the readership. That is not cynicism; that is a blatant lie. Servile media outlets get advertising money galore despite having very small circulations while papers critical of the government get practically nothing.

The next topic was the case of Ghaith Pharaon, the infamous Saudi businessman, and his activities in Hungary. But again, instead of going to the heart of the matter Fazekas complained only about the timing of the release of the information. Again the real problem here is not that Lázár “as the minister responsible for intelligence matters should have talked about the case earlier” but that the information he gave was inaccurate. And, to compound the problem, he added another piece of misinformation in this interview. “As far as I know, he as a private person hasn’t engaged in any economic activity in Hungary.” I assume Lázár is trying to distinguish between Pharaon the individual and Pharaon’s businesses. But in this context the distinction is sophistical. Lázár also assured Fazekas that there was no national security risk as far as Pharaon’s stay in Hungary was concerned, another doubtful assertion given the man’s past dealings with terrorist organizations.

Instead of following up, Fazekas asked a government-friendly question, whether George Soros is a greater national security risk than Ghaith Pharaon. That turn in the conversation allowed Lázár to drop the uncomfortable subject of the Saudi businessman’s affairs in Hungary and turn to immigration and Hungary’s opposition to it.

Fazekas then returned to the question of the media. Fazekas wanted to know “when will the government settle its relations with the left-wing media?” This question seems too broad to me, but Lázár seemed to have known what the reporter meant and announced that “this is a very difficult question.” What Népszava’s journalist had in mind was Fidesz’s boycott of independent organs critical of the government. On this score not even Lázár could offer soothing words to Fazekas. Politics in Hungary is a death struggle, he said, but he himself tries to bring some humor and generosity to political discourse. He is hoping that after 2018 this situation will change. Fazekas didn’t remind Lázár that Hungarians had heard such promises before, except then the date was 2014. Why should anyone believe that after 2018 anything will change? Instead of posing this obvious question, she magnanimously laid out Népszava’s welcome mat for Fidesz politicians. Lázár graciously accepted the invitation and promised to pass it on, I assume to the prime minister.

I’ve pretty much summed up this interview, which was described as important because Fidesz politicians, with very few exceptions, don’t give interviews to independent papers. The list of newspapers on the blacklist is getting longer and longer.

Certainly, by western standards this interview is unsatisfactory, not at all hard-hitting, but I assume that self-censorship was at work. The reporter was so pleased that she had finally managed to have an interview with János Lázár that she didn’t want to alienate him. Unfortunately, this is how things work in an “illiberal state” where media freedom is severely constrained.

November 18, 2016
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bimbi
Guest

Perhaps the headline should have read, “János Lázár gives an interview to the left-wing paper”. There is only one left in Hungary after the widespread ‘slash-and-burn’ policy of the public media by the Orbán regime.

Guest

To me this sounds like “vorauseilender Gehorsam” aka “anticipatory obedience” …
Don’t ever ask questions which Laser Johnny doesn’t like – remember his nickname?

Istvan
Guest

This article shows how fearful the Orban government is of maintaining its NATO alliance in anyway that might provoke the Russians http://mno.hu/belfold/nato-parancsnoksag-nyilt-szekesfehervaron-1372184 The story is about the simple opening of a very small facility in Székesfehérvár to house only 43 Hungarian members of the NATO rapid response force. None the less ever fearful of the Russians the speakers at the opening ceremony emphasized that the facility’s aim was prevention and deterrence, but certainly not a provocation to Russia.

Things will get even worse once President Trump likely revokes President Obama’s, use of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the National Emergencies Act, via an executive order that declared a national emergency and ordered sanctions, including travel bans and the freezing of their U.S. assets, against eventually specified Russian officials determined by the Secretary of the Treasury (in consultation with the Secretary of State) who had “asserted governmental authority in the Crimean region without the authorization of the Government of Ukraine” and whose actions were found to “undermine democratic processes and institutions in Ukraine.”

Reality Check
Guest

OT. Trump’s predatory sexual behavior directed at Hungarian Miss Universe contestant. Not yet reported in US press.

The Hungarian internet news site 444.hu reported today that Miss Universe Hungary 20007, Kata Sharka, was sexually harassed by Donald Trump. The info is based on information she shared in May 2106, well before the Grab ’em video was released.

http://444.hu/2016/11/19/donald-trump-megprobalta-felszedni-sarka-katat

The 444 piece reports that in a video-tapped conversation with Hungarian singer Tibi Kasza she said that while in Russia at the Miss Universe Finals she was approached by Donald Trump, who grabbed her by the hand, pulled her towards him and asked “Who are you?”. He then handed her a card with his private phone number and told her which hotel and room he was staying in.

The conversation is in this video at 5:50.

pappp
Guest

Media is totally servile, journalists would do anything gain”access”. In the US too by the way.

Lázár never says anything useful, so it’s not only his press conferences which are useless (by attending any media will only be complicit in distributing lies) but his interviews too.

That in 2016 some journalist let alone at a supposedly left-leaning paper still thinks that Lazar or anybody from the government would give a normal interview is just pathetic. Pathetic.

But what is most pathetic is this journalist’s sucking up to a thoroughly corrupt politician and essentially asking him for government (taxpayer money) handout. As a supposedly independent media. More than pathetic.

And mind you this is the very last left-leaning daily newspaper. I think Fidesz’ control over the media is all but total. The Hungarian left-wing gave up its access to voters and will have to bear the consequences of that.

Ferenc
Guest

You know it’s strange with OV’s government and party, they have given so many persons communication tasks, but I wonder if anyone of those has ever produced any usefull information at all.

pappp
Guest
Fidesz’ primary goal with respect to independent media is to gain their channels to distribute government propaganda. No wonder Lazar is unhappy if independent media ignores his press conferences because this means that those non-Fidesznik readers are not exposed to government propaganda. Fidesz can’t let that happen. Previously Fidesz’ strategy was to target (i) Fidesz voters to fire them up (with columnists like Zsolt Bayer) and (ii) gain access in one way or another to non-partizans and undecideds (which is why origo.hu, the regional dailies were important to be obtained). But lately (iii) Fidesz decided that it wants access to all voters (readers) including previously steadfast anti-Orbanists, readers of Népszava, 444.hu etc. This is because Fidesz wants total access and then – it hopes – total control of the minds. The more people know about some spin or bullshit lie the better, it doesn’t matter that those people hate Fidesz, some may actually like Fidesz re that particular issue (like immigration) or simply will hear about the spin and will tell others about it. Also, the more Fidesz propaganda (such as the Lazar conferences) appears in those independent media the less other types of articles can appear (there is only… Read more »
Guest

I doubt that a significant number of people have read the interview. Most people read “social media”. Many do it day and night. A devious interview on print is insignificant compared to a successfully shared lie on facebook.

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